Divided Politicians Unable to Reach Consensus
The deeply divided Lebanese parliament has postponed a vote to elect President Emile Lahoud's successor for the fourth time since September.
The vote has been delayed until Friday -- the day Mr. Lahoud's term will end.
Fears of Civil War
Observers fear that the Western-backed coalition and pro-Syrian opposition will fail to find a compromise candidate by the end of the week, leaving Lebanon without a head of government.
The pro-Western governing coalition has threatened to elect its own president if the opposition fails to support a consensus candidate.
The leading opposition party Hezbollah is pushing for a candidate friendly to its Syrian and Iranian backers.
Hezbollah has hinted that it will form its own rival government if an anti-Syrian president is elected to power.
The party has military and social development wings that enjoy broad popular support.
Many fear the formation of a rival Hezbollah government might provoke a civil war.
Even if the rival parties succeed in electing a new president they will likely walk a rough path toward compromise when choosing the next prime minister and forming a government.
The Larger Game
The political crisis in Lebanon has been shaped by the regional struggle for power between the United States, Israel, moderate Arab countries, Syria and Iran.
According to Paul Salem of the Carnegie Endowment, the political deadlock is the result of a "confrontation between states taking place in Lebanon."
The trap for political turmoil was set nearly three years ago when Western governments linked the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri to Syria.
The car-bombing and subsequent accusations triggered massive street demonstrations that forced Syria to end its occupation of Lebanon.